Separation in Singapore

Last updated on November 27, 2018

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In Singapore, separation is a popular solution for couples trapped in troubled marriages. Spouses may enter into a separation as and when they want because the laws regulating spousal relationship do not require cohabitation.

The sole ground for divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and there are 4 legally defined ways of proving this irretrievable breakdown: adultery, desertion, unreasonable behaviour, or separation for a period of time. Separation is often the preferred option when neither party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

There are 3 main ways for spouses to bring about separation:

  1. Informally, without a written document;
  2. With a separation agreement; and
  3. With a judgment of judicial separation.

Informal Separation

Couples are free to separate informally by living apart any time they wish to do so. However, in order for separation to count as a valid ground for divorce, the separation must be valid. Separations may be valid if either or both parties intend for it to lead to divorce. With an informal separation, physical separation is usually required.

Physical separation may be present even if the couples live under one roof, if there is a clear disruption of marital or sexual relations. Also, the parties must generally not have performed other typical spousal duties, such as cooking or cleaning for each other. Separation must also be by choice of the couple, and not merely a matter of necessity (e.g. if a husband works abroad for a year, that may not count as a valid separation).

Formal Agreements of Separation

A Deed of Separation is simply a document that states the terms and conditions of the relationship during the period of separation. There are two main categories of clauses in a separation agreement.

The first category contains terms relating to the separation itself. This includes the date when the parties separated, the living arrangements of both parties, and the agreement that both parties will live separately from each other.

The second category contains terms on financial arrangements between the spouses and other terms. This has to be mutually agreed upon. Examples of this would be whether there should be any division of matrimonial assets (who gets the car), maintenance terms concerning the children’s living arrangements (who gets to care for the child, and how much access the other spouse gets).

In this sense, a deed of separation is not too different from a divorce agreement. A lawyer is usually hired to draft the deed of separation, although an oral agreement or a written document composed by the couple may still hold water as a separation agreement.

It should be noted that a Deed of Separation can only be invoked with both spouses’ consent, and need not be registered with any government department or court. However, the Family Court can set aside terms of the Deed that it considers to be unfair or improper. Yet, this doesn’t not apply where the court has officially sanctioned the Deed.

The Deed of Separation simply means that both parties can live apart, but it does not change the legal state of their marriage – both parties are still considered legally married despite the Deed of Separation. For either party to remarry, a divorce is necessary. Nonetheless, a Deed of Separation is useful as a precursor to divorce, in that it prepares both parties for the realities of divorce. In this sense, it is useful for spouses who have a hope of reconciling in the future.

Judicial Separation

Couples may also file for a judgment of judicial separation, pursuant to section 101(1) of the Women’s Charter. This course of action may be more onerous, because of the need to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, on the grounds of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion. There are very minimal advantages to a judicial separation.

Marital Rape

By force of section 375(4) of the Penal Code, men are no longer exempted from being guilty of rape against his wife under certain circumstances. They include:

  1. Where man and wife are living apart under an interim judgment of divorce or nullity;
  2. Where man and wife are living apart under a judgment of judicial separation;
  3. Where man and wife are living apart under a written separation agreement;
  4. Where man and wife are living apart and proceedings have been commenced for divorce, nullity, judicial separation, or personal protection orders, and such proceedings have not been concluded;
  5. There is a court injunction restraining the man from sexual relations with his wife; or
  6. There is a personal protection order against the man, for the wife.

Beyond these circumstances, a husband is usually immune from the offence of rape, but remains liable for other less severe offences involving the causing of hurt to the wife.


The separation can end in either reconciliation or divorce. The conditions for divorce continue to apply. 3 years of separation is required for divorce with both parties’ consent. 4 years of separation is needed for divorce without consent.

Should you require any guidance on the costs of hiring a divorce lawyer, please refer to our Divorce Fee Guide.

Couples may also wish to seek marriage counselling before they conclude on divorce.

Before getting a divorce
  1. How to Get a Divorce in Singapore in 2019: Process and Requirements
  2. How Can I Divorce Overseas?
  3. Mandatory Parenting Programme Guide for Divorcing Parents
  4. Online Divorce in Singapore: How It Works and Should You Get One?
  5. Getting a Divorce Due to “Irreconcilable Differences” in Singapore
  6. How to Get a Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage
  7. Personal Protection Orders (PPOs), Expedited Orders (EOs) and Domestic Exclusion Orders (DEOs) in Singapore
  8. Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
  9. What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
  10. Separation in Singapore
  11. Annulment of Marriage in Singapore
  12. Practical Preparations for a Divorce
  13. 3 Finance Questions To Ask Before a Divorce
Divorce Fees
  1. Comprehensive Guide to Divorce Fees in Singapore (Updated Sep 2018)
Getting a Divorce Lawyer
  1. The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  2. First Meeting with Your Divorce Lawyer: What to Bring
  3. Don’t Just Go for the Cheapest Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  4. Find Experienced Divorce Lawyers in Singapore
  5. Child Custody Lawyers in Singapore
Proving Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
  1. How to Prove Adultery for Divorce Purposes in Singapore
  2. Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion
  3. How to Prove Unreasonable Behaviour
  4. How to Prove Separation for a Singapore Divorce
Application for Divorce Part I: Dissolution of Marriage
  1. Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
  2. Divorce Mediation in Singapore
  3. Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
  4. Simplified Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Singapore
Application for Divorce Part 2: Ancillary Matters (Maintenance, Assets, Custody)
  1. Procedure for Ancillary Matters
  2. What Happens to Gifts Between Spouses During a Divorce?
  3. What Happens to Property and Assets Located Overseas Upon a Divorce in Singapore?
  4. Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
  5. Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
  6. Guide to Child Custody, Care and Control, and Access in Singapore
  7. How Does the Court Divide Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce?
  1. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after Divorce?
  2. Variation of Maintenance Orders in Singapore
  3. Division of CPF Assets (Monies, House, Investments) after a Divorce
  4. Divorce Certificates in Singapore: How to Get a Copy and Other FAQs
  5. Transfer of Matrimonial Home to Ex-Spouse After Divorce
  6. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
  7. What Happens If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance?
Expatriate Divorce
  1. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  2. Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  3. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  4. Hague Convention in Singapore: Overseas Child Abduction in Divorce
  5. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
Muslim or Syariah Divorce
  1. Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  2. Applying for Nafkah Idaah and Mutaah in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore
Other divorce matters
  1. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after an Annulment?
  2. Case Study - Love conquers All: The Divorce That Didn’t Happen